Policies That Strengthen Fatherhood and Family Relationships

What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?

By Virginia Knox, Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, Elana Bildner

A final version of this paper was published in May 2011 in The ANNALS of Political and Social Science.

Children whose parents have higher income and education levels are more likely to grow up in stable two-parent households than their economically disadvantaged counterparts. These widening gaps in fathers’ involvement in parenting and in the quality and stability of parents’ relationships may reinforce disparities in outcomes for the next generation. This paper reviews evidence about the effectiveness of two strategies to strengthen fathers’ involvement and family relationships — fatherhood programs aimed at disadvantaged noncustodial fathers and relationship skills programs for parents who are together. Fatherhood programs have shown some efficacy at increasing child support payments, while relationship skills approaches have shown benefits for the couples’ relationship quality, coparenting skills, fathers’ engagement in parenting, and children’s well-being. The research evidence suggests that parents’ relationship with each other should be a fundamental consideration in future programs aimed at increasing low-income fathers’ involvement with their children.

Document Details

Publication Type
Working Paper
April 2010
Knox, Virginia, Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, and Elana Bildner. 2010. “Policies That Strengthen Fatherhood and Family Relationships.” New York: MDRC.